(Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, MA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 10--The Market Basket saga took a turn for the sharp-tongued heading into the weekend, as talks surrounding the sale of the company continue behind closed doors.
In a departure from last weekend's civil rhetoric, three members of the Demoulas Board of Directors released a statement Saturday accusing Arthur T. Demoulas of holding employees and customers hostage in order to gain leverage for his offer to buy the company.
"Twenty five thousand associates and two million customers shouldn't be held hostage for a business deal between shareholders," the board members said in the statement. "We all need to get back to work, stock our shelves and allow our customers to return to shop. Clearly, each side has sets of proposals to solve the impasse -- there are enough proposed solutions out there to begin a serious negotiation."
"It is wrong to hold everyone hostage to gain a negotiation advantage. Let's end the hostage-taking and get together to work at finding common ground. We are ready (to) meet, anytime, anywhere," the statement continued.
Neither Demoulas nor his spokeswoman released a response Saturday.
On Friday evening, Demoulas released a statement through a spokesperson calling the board "disingenuous" for announcing they had extended an offer for him to "rejoin the company but not as CEO" late Friday afternoon.
"This is an attempt to have him stabilize the company, while they consider selling it to another bidder. This is far too serious a situation for these games and attempts at window dressing. It is a serious issue that deserves a serious solution. Market Basket's Associates, customers, vendors and communities deserve better than that. Arthur T. Demoulas has provided a serious proposal which should be accepted," Demoulas's statement said.
The back-and-forth is the latest development in an ongoing saga that has resulted in a weeks-long boycott led by customers and employees in favor of reinstating Demoulas as chief executive. He and two top executives were fired by Arthur T.'s cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, in June.
In spite of the tense nature of the latest round of statements, one expert said a deal may be on the horizon.
Mark S. DiSalvo, chief executive of Semaphore, a professional services firm that takes over management of troubled venture capital and private equity funds, said he thought a "resolution has never been closer than this moment."
"This is the normal and consistent pace of a transaction as it gets near the end game. No matter how friendly it starts, even in the best of circumstances, there is always last-minute contention. I don't want to express that we're in the last minute, but we are certainly heading into the last hour," he said.
DiSalvo is a visiting professor at the Graduate Johnson School of Management at Cornell, and lectures at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern about troubled transaction issues. He said that the statements are not a reflection of the negotiations themselves, but are a negotiating tactic.
"The statements last Saturday and Sunday were much more hopeful. There was no acrimony. They were all made on both sides to invite better from each other," he said.
Arthur T. has offered to buy the 50.5 percent of the company Arthur S. and his family own. The board has said it is considering Arthur T.'s offer along with others. In a statement released last Sunday, the board said they "encourage the B shareholders, including Arthur T. Demoulas, to continue providing constructive proposals."
DiSalvo said Arthur T., or an outside company that has reached a private agreement with Arthur T. allowing him to run the company, would most likely turn out to be the highest bidder. Any other potential buyers would run the risk of purchasing a company with a badly damaged reputation and a dissatisfied or nonexistent workforce, and their offers would reflect that, DiSalvo said.
"(The board) will sell to the party paying the most money, period," DiSalvo said. "It's likely that a party will only pay the most money if (that party) is Arthur T., because he can guarantee his own participation and the participation of employees."
At the Market Basket on Route 114 in North Andover, Saturday marked the last scheduled shift until further notice for part-time employees. They shook hands and exchanged well-wishes with their managers in the parking lot.
Adam Mayer, a grocery manager at the store who has worked at Market Basket for 12 years, disputed the claim that Arthur T. has held anyone hostage.
"It's not true at all. Before the rallies even started, we were ready to do this. We were ready to do this a year ago," he said.
Mayer said many part time employees, even those looking for other work, have promised to continue to protest outside the store.
John Kennedy, a dairy manager at the store with 18 years of experience, said employees put little stock in the statements released by the board of directors, who are "just playing a game."
"Everything Artie T. says, we believe," he said. "I would not trust anything Arthur S. or the CEOs say because in the year since he took over, Arthur S. has never walked into the store, and probably couldn't tell you a single one of our names."
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